Archive for August, 2005

On Living Well & Dying Well

A beautiful reflection on the work of dying from Larry Zaroff in the New York Times.

2 comments August 30th, 2005

‘The Enemy of My Enemies’

Found this at the end of a reflection by Dan Clendenin for the fourth anniversary of 9/11:

‘The German Pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892–1984), who protested Hitler’s anti-semite measures in person to the fuehrer, was eventually arrested, then imprisoned at Sachsenhausen and Dachau (1937–1945). He once confessed, “It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.” I pray to love what Niemoeller learned, and I pray that despite the pain and horror that our country experienced on September 11, 2001, our nation and its leaders will too.’

2 comments August 29th, 2005

Objects on the Stack: A Delphi Relic

Now here’s a dangerous and dubious technique for you to try at your own risk–
allocate objects on the stack instead of on the heap. Hey, C++ does it all the
time!

The advantage: object allocation is at least twice as fast on the stack.
Disadvantage: only applicable to objects which are local variables.

Example

First, an example and then the explanation.

uses
StackObjects;

procedure Test;
var
t : array [0..199] of TMyObject;
n : Integer;
begin
StackObjects.BeginStackAllocation(200*50, false);
for n := 0 to 199 do
t[n] := TMyObject.Create;

StackObjects.EndStackAllocation;
end;

Notice that t is a local variable–an array of objects. To get those objects
allocated on the stack along with the array itself all you need to do is call
BeginStackAllocation before they are created. BeginStackAllocation
reserves a portion of the stack for allocations (I’ll explain the boolean
parameter later). If you don’t reserve enough space an exception will be
raised. You might also have to use the $M compiler directive to make enough
space available. Then you just go ahead and create and use the objects as
you see fit. Finally, after you are through using them you call EndStackAllocation,
after which object allocations revert to the heap as usual.

Notice that there is no need to Free the objects on the stack. They automagically
vanish when they go out of scope. Reference-counted variables (e.g., dynamic
arrays) needs to be treated carefully and explicitly finalized before ending the
stack allocator. You also have to be careful that you don’t (explicitly or implicitly)
create any objects from a superior scope between calls of Begin- and EndStackAllocation
or they will vanish too and explode your app. The VCL user-interface is the
source of potential problems in this regard which the attached demo discusses
ways of getting round.

The stack space set aside by BeginStackAllocation is available wherever it is in
scope. This applies to procedures too. Memory allocated in an inner scope may
be safely used in the original scope. You could, in principle, make your whole
program into a procedure and put all allocations on the stack. I haven’t tried
that yet!

How it Works

Deep in the grids.pas unit the VCL itself uses this technique to allocate memory
on the stack. The trick is to shift the stack pointer to make room for your
extra variables. Such allocations disappear when the current procedure exits.
Grids uses two routines, StackAlloc and StackFree, to achieve some very fast
dynamic memory allocation.

I’ve adapted the method to work with other Delphi objects instead of just plain
vanilla memory and in the process made it a little safer. What the StackObjects
unit does is provide a plug-in Delphi memory manager that uses stack memory.
When BeginStackAllocation is called the new stack memory manager replaces the
standard memory manager and all subsequent memory allocations come from the
reserved space on the stack.

Now re-routing ALL memory allocation to the stack causes a number of problems.
It is amazing how hard it is to keep track of all the string variables that get
allocated behind the scenes and linger to blow up your app. For this reason all
dynamic string allocations are kept from the stack and re-routed to the standard
memory manager. In addition the stack memory manager can either handle all the
remaining allocation (including ordinary memory, and dynamic arrays) or just
the allocation of objects. Remember the boolean parameter in BeginStackAllocation.
If true is passed, only objects are created on the stack. Otherwise New and Dispose,
StrAlloc, StrDispose, GetMem, FreeMem, creation and destruction of dynamic arrays,
etc. all allocate on the stack.

It is essential to call EndStackAllocation before leaving the local scope. It reinstates
the default memory manager. If you don’t you’ll blow things to pieces. You could
use a try … finally block to ensure the memory manager is replaced in the event of
a problem but that might cause some stack-allocated entities to be freed by the
standard manager with more explosions!

The commented code in StackObjects.pas and the demo should explain the details.

Dangers

Make sure you match BeginStackAllocation and EndStackAllocation

Beware of implicit creation of objects from a superior scope

Don’t try and use with multiple threads.

Don’t try and use with other memory managers–at least not while stack allocation
is in progress.

This is an edgy technique, subverting Delphi to squeeze out some extra speed.
If I haven’t already made myself clear on this point … don’t blame me if,
in trying this code, you destroy your computer or start World War III.

August 28th, 2005

Sunday Week 22 Year A

Though you might not guess it looking at me I’ve never been on a surfboard. I’ve never been a surfer—if you don’t count channel surfing and my mastery of the remote—but I have watched them once or twice and found it stunning— audacious and beautiful and dangerous. The heart of the surfer’s art is an unusual balance—not just the physical balance of walking on water but another balance between bodily grace and crippling calamity. They ride the edge of a wave pushing their skill right to the brink of injury and death in search of the experience of really living. And when they find it they light up: they risk losing their life to find it.

We talk about ‘bearing our crosses’ in tones of resignation—fate has dealt me this hand and now I’ll offer it up and find some spiritual meaning in what I can’t avoid…
But Jesus must have been a surfer. When he says ‘renounce yourself and take up your cross’, when he says ‘lose your life and save it’, there’s no resignation in it—he’s talking about seeking out the edge where something is worth dying for, finding the place where death makes life worth living.
Matthew says Jesus was destined to go to Jerusalem to suffer but that makes it seem he had no choice. He did. Go home and die a safe man’s death or carry the cross of his good news into the Holy City riding the edge of his art, hoping for life abundant.
We know the wave broke, and broke him with it, but what a ride it was—audacious and beautiful and dangerous! And what a life came from his death!
Surfers, for all their dopey cool, are addicts and obsessives. Once they have balanced on the edge and tasted the wave they can’t get the thirst from their mouths. They pursue those waves: challenge them, push their luck to the breaking point and beyond.
Jeremiah is protesting and praising just that experience. ‘You have seduced me God and I have let myself be seduced. You have been too much for me but I cannot forget you. I cannot be silent, I cannot un-speak your name, or swallow your words—they throb like a fire in my heart and a burning in my bones.’

My advice to you (and to myself) is to go home and stick to channel-surfing. The less you risk the less you feel. The less you feel the less you risk. … Avoid Jesus at all costs. Because if you let him in, if you let him close, if you feel his touch—he will seduce you and you will let yourself be seduced. Better, my friends, not to know him, better not to get the taste for him and his crazy, wonderful life.

Of course it may already be too late.

August 28th, 2005

Nature and Culture, Intelligence and Gender

As if to illustrate my previous post I discovered this via Slashdot:

Richard Lynn, the emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University, argues that men have larger brains and higher IQs than women, to such an extent that they are better suited to “tasks of high complexity”.

The professor has caused outrage in the past with claims that white people are more intelligent than blacks and that criminal traits are genetically inherited.

Now there’s a piece of research–no matter it’s merits or lack thereof–that blurs the lines between fact and value and poses questions about the relationship between nature and culture, science and society.

August 26th, 2005

Cosmology and Cricket (Oh and Evolution Too)

The game of cricket has been a consuming topic in the last few days–not least because one of our visiting retreat givers is a fanatic and another is from the US and rather bemused by it all. We end our midday meal with a brief prayer and today the person leading it began with a carefully confusing account of the rules of cricket–all about being in and being out, etc. After the expected mirth had died down he went on to pray about the presence of God in all the strange customs and cultures of the world and for our ability to find God in all things.
Now… ‘finding God in all things’ is a central Ignatian maxim but–really!–the rules of cricket? You can tell I’m not fond of the game but I doubt that’s the reason the question has been buzzing around for an hour or two now. It touches something more fundamental for me: a matter of cosmology. Where is God to be found in the world? In the natural world? In the worlds of culture? In all of each or only in parts? And how would we tell?
It has been arguedBy David Tracy among others that there is a fundamental parting of the ways between Catholics and Protestants over just this issue. The Catholic imagination–wildly oversimplifying–tends to value the ways the creation can reflect, embody, and reveal God while the Protestant imagination tends to see God as sitting in judgement of just such practises. The Incarnation, then, gets viewed from very different angles either as grounding the capacity of human culture to mediate God or as the way God comes to challenge the idols culture erects. The one is sacramental, the other iconoclastic. I suspect the situation is far more complex than that but there’s a grain of truth there. Compare Karl Rahner for example with Karl Barth.
Perhaps more to the point would be to compare two figures within 20th century Catholicism, Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar, himself heavily influenced by Barth. I doubt a close reading of either of them would uphold the polarity some commentators construct between them but the construction is interesting in itself. Rahner, they say, was over-optimistic about the human beings ability to know God and human culture’s capacity to carry God, perhaps most extravagantly manifest in his notion of the ‘anonymous Christian’ . A good Rahnerian could make an anonymous Christian even out of a cricketer. Just being human is being bound for God. The good Balthasarian–and they seem to be in the ascendance right now–thinks that is all too vague and merely baptizes philosophy to look like theology. Christ impresses himself onto the human world and reveals his glory in very particular forms.
The consequences of of this kind of polar construction are very much in evidence in the Catholic Church these days. Was Vatican II a weakening of Catholic identity that now needs to be corrected by a return to our distinctive marks? Or are we still waiting for Vatican II’s vision of a Church open to the world to be implemented and bear its fruit. How should the Church see itself vis-a-vis modern European culture? Are we salt, leaven, and light or are we a separate society offering a counter witness to secularism’s evils? Do we inculturate into our culture, affirming the good we find as a vehicle for the gospel, or do we stand outside and speak an uncomfortable truth?
I could go on but I promise just one more: where do we stand on evolution and design? Cardinal Schönborn’s editorial in the New York Times gets close to setting up science and religion as sparring partners offering conflicting accounts of matters of fact. George Coyne’s response keeps them in separate compartments.’Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions.’ It’s been a while since Ian Barbour explored other ways for science and religion to relate besides conflict and compartmentalisationThere is an extensive treatment here. Once we take a deep breath and deconstruct the dichotomies of which the media are so fond we find that so much of the debate is at cross purposes. The myth of the independence of science and theology has been a safe haven for most theologians. Since science delivers matters of fact with which we can’t argue we can at least satisfy ourselves that we have something to say on matters of value. Running for cover, though, does put you at a disadvantage. Both science and religion(s) offer a cosmology–a view of the whole–that can’t be carved up into pieces: fact and value. Science does us all a disservice when it too runs for cover and claims it is a disinterested pursuit of truth. The atom bomb is not neutral. It isn’t the case that science just produces the facts and others have to decide how to use them. Science offers a view of reality that systematically excludes value. That has been its genius and its deceit. I love science, always have, but I know it lies when it says it is offers a complete vision of reality. It is the very value-neutral ideology of the scientific enterprise which is under attack from the proponents of Intelligent Design. They take the war into the enemies camp proposing purposes and reasons to challenge matters of fact on their own ground. My own belief is that the project is misguided.And guided by the kind of politics I abhor. ID isn’t a scientific theory to be judged by scientific criteria or taught alongside science in schools. It offers no scientific heuristic only metaphysical challenge. But neither are science and religion apples and oranges. Both make cosmological claims–claims about the fullness of what is real–and on that contested territory something interesting might be built to challenge both science and theology.
Bloody cricket!!

10 comments August 26th, 2005

Angels, Ecology, & Virtual Reality

Some time ago I began to be interested in the interface between theology and spirituality and, in particular, the place they meet in cosmology. Theological cosmology, as i think of it, is not in the mainstream of theological study but I believe it deserves to be as it holds the clues to a fresh approach to some common theological impasses.

The paper which follows was written out of a striking experience of ‘spirit of place’. Everyone I’ve asked has their own experiences when a place and time become unexpectedly sacred for them. This is the phenomenon that provoked me to begin to explore what kind of ‘spirit’ makes sense of such experience. I rapidly found it is a conception of spirit that sends roots in two directions: into our theories of the world and into our theories of God. Hence theological cosmology.

Theology is often ridiculed by invoking the mythical question ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin’ but i believe there’s an unintended profundity here. It asks how spirit and place are related. That’s a question of intense ecological significance.

If you are interested read on…

Continue Reading 3 comments August 23rd, 2005

Friday Week 20 Year I

Gormless, uncouth, inept and ruthless… we’ve lost their kinder, gentler opposites gormful, couth, ept, … and ruthful – full of ruth. What does ruth mean? You have to make a leap from ‘ruthless’ somewhere into the territory of care and concern. Ruth is that piercing sorrow you feel when you can’t dodge someone else’s distress. It’s the ill-defined opposite of hardness of heart.
We need so badly to flesh out that tender term that its such a pity Ruth’s book gets such short shrift today and tomorrow. But those few lines on Ruth’s lips tell us a lot:

‘Wherever you go, I will go, wherever you live, I will live. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God’.

Pity is a paltry word for it. Compassion hardly cuts it. Sorrow says too little. Ruth gives her name to something essential.
Ruth is the model disciple. In the gospels the disciples all get called in a flurry of upping and leaving. We know their dedication by what and who they leave behind—wives and nets, families and futures. Even Jesus says of himself he has no place to lay his head.
Yet Ruth’s discipleship is written in an altogether richer thread. Her journey is hard and she does leave her home and comfortable culture to be a stranger in a strange land. But her discipleship isn’t about leaving but about staying, not about letting go but holding fast.
She makes her vow to stay, to stay with Naomi, wherever Naomi goes. To belong with her. And she makes it not because she is strong enough to face the challenge but because she is too weak to harden her heart against Naomi’s sorrow and suffering.
There’s a strange Greek word that is always being used in the gospels to describe Jesus—and the translators all differ over its meaning. Jesus had pity one says. Another he was moved. Another he was angry. Another compassion. It is ruth he feels. Faced with poverty, faced with corruption, faced with religious hypocrisy, faced with disease and dying and death. Ruth. Like Ruth, Jesus is too weak to harden his heart.
And that’s a family resemblance. The only time Ruth is named in the gospels is in the genealogy at the start of Matthew. In among the mind-numbing litany of fathers a few mothers are smuggled in. And there’s Ruth. On Ruth’s weakness depends the salvation of the human race.
But that’s not exactly the family I’m thinking about. I read that genealogy with all its twists and turns and I hear the lengths that God has gone to to keep the story going. Against the odds and better judgment God has stayed with us. God is pretty bad at this hardness of heart thing too. And that’s where Jesus gets it from. He takes after his Dad.
And it’s his father, God, I hear saying those words to us here this evening: wherever you go, I will go, wherever you live I will live.

August 19th, 2005

E=mc2

Nova has a great page of essays and articles to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s amazing year of discovery.
The page of podcasts got me thinking. Here are ten top physicists given the brief to describe Einstein’s equation to curious non-physicists–and in under a minute or so! The results are fascinating.
What I’ve been wondering is how 10 theologians would get along describing, say, the Resurrection to curious non-theologians in under a minute? (I could have been nasty and made it the Trinity)
I’ve been trying a more modest version in-house with the team here. Maybe it is a challenge you’d like to rise to: describe the impact of the Resurrection in your life and work in under a minute.
There’s a really challenging variant that I am only beginning to ask myself: to describe the impact of Einstein’s equation on my theology, my faith, my work. That would be theology worth the doing.

11 comments August 19th, 2005

Turning Back The Clock

My ISP has invented a time machine … or at least this morning when I checked this page it was as if the last week had never happened. I’m awaiting the explanation but have in the meantime done my best to recreate the lost posts. Here they are (more or less) but what is missing and unrecovereable are the comments some of you made. My apologies. Perhaps I will learn to backup more frequently …

2 comments August 18th, 2005

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